SANTA CLARA — San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has made no secret that he likes to create competition at every spot. He’s also not shy about bringing in players he’s depended on in the past (see: Morris, Alfred).
Those two ambitions met perfectly in the signing of running back Tevin Coleman, who officially joined the 49ers on a two-year deal on Thursday.
“I just thought it would be a great fit,” said Coleman, who wound up as the Atlanta Falcons’ main back last season when two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman went down with injury.
San Francisco emerged as a player for Coleman on the first day of free agency, Wednesday.
“They hit me up and said they really wanted me, and that’s when I made the decision,” Coleman said.
During a rapid-fire day for San Francisco, in which the franchise introduced Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander in a noon presser, then rolled corner Jason Verrett, linebacker Ryan Mayo and wide receiver Jordan Matthews through the Levi’s Stadium media room, Coleman took a bit more time to address the local media. He got caught up with an old friend, running backs coach Robert Turner.
Turner and Shanahan were both in Atlanta during Coleman’s first two years in the NFL with the Falcons. As a rookie, he rushed 87 times for 392 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 14 yards. The next season, he rushed 118 times for 520 yards and eight touchdowns, and caught 31 balls for 421 yards.
“It was real important, because I had a great relationship with both of them,” Coleman said. “They helped me a lot earlier in my career, my first two years in Atlanta … When I first got in the league, I wasn’t catching the ball out of the backfield like that, and didn’t know what to expect. [Turner] had actually seen my talents in catching the ball, and wanted to use me more in that way.”
His two seasons under Turner and Shanahan demonstrated just how much freedom he’d have in the 49ers’ offense, a key selling point.
“The zone scheme, catching the ball out of the backfield, lining out at receiver, I think that will be a big help for me and my game,” Coleman said. “[Turner] helped me in every aspect of my game, in pass blocking, carrying the ball, zone reads, pressing the ball. He’s helped me a lot, tremendously, in my career, so I’m really excited being here.”
Even after Shanahan’s departure, Coleman thrived.
Playing in Freeman’s stead last season, Coleman rushed 167 times for 800 yards (a career-best 4.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, and caught 32 balls for 276 yards for five touchdowns. If he can replicate that kind of production for San Francisco, he’ll be a real bargain.
According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, Coleman’s deal is for $8.5 million, with no signing bonus. He gets $3.6 million in 2019 and a $2 million rolling guarantee on April 1, 2020. With incentives, the contract is $10.6 million. That means if they cut him, there won’t be much damage, and if he can rack up 1,000 yards from scrimmage, it’s gravy, especially given the experience in the running back room.
With presumptive starter Jerick McKinnon going down with a torn ACL before the season, Matt Breida rushed for 814 yards and three TDs while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Alfred Morris for 428 and two, while Raheem Mostert rushed for 261 yards and a score, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
“I’m just going to be me,” Coleman said. “I’m going to go out there and just compete. This is my team now. Those are my brothers now. We just go out there and have fun together.”
Coleman, who has run a 40 as fast as 4.39, figured the now-four-man backfield will be the fastest he’s ever played in. McKinnon’s fastest 40 was a 4.41, Mostert’s a 4.34 and Breida’s a 4.39.
“It’ll be a 4×1 relay team back there,” he said. “There’s a lot of speed in the backfield. I’m really excited to play with those guys … To get me in space, that’s where my strength is, so it’ll be good.”